Only one story this issue, but it's a big one. It doesn't end the way I'd like, but it
sure was fun trying!
Las Vegas Hilton Million Dollar Blackjack Finals: My Report
April brought an exciting finish to the year-long blackjack tournament at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Entrants all year long had paid $1000 for the opportunity to enter a monthly qualifier at the
Hilton. The monthly events paid $20,000 for first place, but the big draw was that the top 16
finishers in each monthly event got a free entry into the April 2003 final event, where the
winner walked away with a cool million in cash.
I entered this event twice, first in the inaugural event last April and again in August.
Fortunately, I made the cut in August and saved countless entry fees and travel expenses
in subsequent months. Making the cut also meant getting my $1000 entry back in August, so
my total investment was only $1000. Then I just had to wait and prepare for the big finals
I can't say enough about how well the Hilton handled this event. Jimmy Wike and Les Thacker
ran this tournament from start to finish, and they simply did a tremendous job. The monthly
events had been held on the casino floor, but for the finals they chose to move the action
into an area of the convention center instead. They set up grandstands for the spectators,
and mounted mirrors above each table so the crowd could see the action.
My own participation in the finals was regrettably short-lived, and pretty anticlimactic
after the long wait and buildup. My first round in the five-round tournament was a tough one.
The dealer was particularly hot, and won hand after hand at my table. Now, usually that's not
a bad thing for my style of play because I generally start with very conservative play. But in
this instance, I was losing even more hands than the rest of the table, and I quickly found
myself in last place. Still, my situation wasn't that bad. With just more than 10 hands to
go, I decided it was time to catch up, and I had a three-hand shot at doing just that. I made
a single bet large enough to take the lead by a small margin. Upon losing it, I could bet half
my bankroll for a second shot to do the same. If I lost that bet, I could go all-in to get
back to the same spot for another half-bankroll bet. My luck wasn't up to the challenge
however. I lost the next three hands, and ended my hopes at the million with a disappointing
slump. After the round, my friends in the gallery weren't sure how many times I had been paid.
The debate was between twice or three times. Needless to say, you can't win a round without
picking up a chip every once in a while.
My own run at the money was over, but I had lots of friends still alive in the event. One
close friend made it to round four where he was finally defeated by an old nemesis of mine.
Back in 1997 or so, I made the semi-final round in a big tournament at Excalibur, and the
round was determined by the final card dealt. I came up short then too, and a player named
Kenny Einiger from Florida advanced to the finals at Excalibur. It was Kenny who ended my
friend's run, and landed at the final table to play for a million dollars.
A film crew was on hand for the finals, and I understand that the show they produce will
air this summer on the Travel Channel. If you watch, you might catch a glimpse of me
standing inside the pit during the finals, recording the action for my article in
Blackjack Confidential magazine. I'll be the one wearing a 'BlackjackInfo.com' cap!
The dealer in the final round was as tough as mine had been, repeatedly drawing to 21
throughout the round. By the final hand, only three competitors of the original seven had any
chips left. Here's the final hand, starting from the first base button:
|Edward Rhoades||$12300||$2500||9 K|
|Kenny Einiger||$7700||$3900||4 4 Dbl T|
|Nicholas Lopes||$8900||$5000||Q 6|
|Dealer||Upcard is 5|
We'll start with Edward Rhoades, who has a commanding lead going into the final hand. The
betting range for this event was $100 to $5000. Rhoades' considerable lead of $3400 over
second place gives him a tremendous advantage with one hand to go, even though he must bet
and act first this hand. His bet, $2500, leaves something to be desired. Although he can't
bet enough to cover Lopes' $8900 doubling up, he can cover Einiger's $7700 double-up. To do
that he needs to bet at least $3200, which would take him to $15500 with a win. He still
hasn't bet more than his lead, but he now can still beat an Einiger all-in double down which
would take Einiger to only $15400.
Next up is Einiger, who is in a tough spot being in third place. Still, Kenny realized the
opening that Rhoades left him. My only complaint with Einiger's bet is that he overbet by a
smidgen. From his bankroll of $7700, he should have bet $3800 instead of $3900 to retain the
ability to split in case he got a pair. I can't be sure, but I expect that splitting his bank
was his intention, and he simply miscounted. Playing for a million bucks has a way of rattling
a guy! Still, he was well-aware that he needed to double on anything for a chance at the
Lopes was last to bet, and he made a good bet of the maximum $5000. He can double to
great effect, and if he caught a blackjack, that would force Rhoades to double.
Once the cards are dealt, the dealer turns up a 5. Rhoades has no decision. Doubling his hard
19 makes no sense here, so he stands. If either player behind him doubles and wins, he's in
trouble. Still, he is the favorite for now. Then, Einiger's play: He can't split his pair
of fours, because he overbet. I believe doubling is a stronger play anyway, and he doubles
all-in. He catches a Ten for 18. However, Lopes can still make a run for first. Lopes has
only one play to have a chance. He must double his hard 16. A winning double wins the million!
However, apparently Lopes isn't aware he has a shot here and stands! Ouch! It turns out the
next card dealt was a ten anyway, so Lopes would have busted, but that was the biggest
mistake of the finals.
Now that play has continued to the dealer's hand, Einiger is actually the favorite with his
double-down hand of 18. A dealer bust or 17 hands the million dollars to Einiger (53.77%).
If the dealer instead draws out to 18,19,20 or 21, Rhoades is the winner. The dealer turns
over a 4 underneath the 5 for nine, hits it with a face-card for 19.
Edward Rhoades is blackjack's first tournament millionaire. He's been in the winners circle
before. Back in the 1970s, he picked up back-to-back wins in some of the very
first blackjack and craps tournaments ever held. I ran into Mr. Rhoades on the way back
to the room, and congratulated him. He said that he had no family or friends in the
audience during the finals, and he was headed to make some phone calls. In particular, he
had one friend who lives in Las Vegas who had been with him through the earlier rounds,
but had to leave before the finals. When he left, his friend told him "If you win it, you
can buy me breakfast tomorrow." Rhoades said he was headed to the room to call his friend
and leave a message on his answering machine: "I owe you breakfast."
I'm still deciding which months to play this year, since the Hilton is holding the whole
event again. The first qualifier is May 8th, and there are events monthly until another
millionaire is crowned in May 2004. Maybe I'll see you there!
That's it for now. Best of luck, online and off! -Ken-